TIME People

Doctor Who Opposed Vaccines Found Dead in Apparent Suicide

He was known for publishing controversial research suggesting a link between vaccines and autism

Dr. Jeff Bradstreet, an anti-vaccine physician, has been found dead in what police believe is a suicide.

Bradstreet died of what authorities say appears to be a self-inflicted gun shot to the chest, the Associated Press reports. His body was found by a fisherman on June 19 in Rocky Broad River in Chimney Rock, N.C. Authorities also found a handgun in the water.

Bradstreet, who is from Georgia, published controversial research suggesting a link between vaccines and autism. The claim has been widely disproved in the medical community. His family is raising money to investigate his death.

Officials are still investigating as well.

[AP]

TIME Innovation

Why Bank Branches Still Matter

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. If you’re old or poor, bank branches still matter.

By Melvin Backman in Quartz

2. Street-by-street health tracking can help you avoid the flu.

By Patrick Kulp in Mashable

3. Is the U.S. Border Patrol above the law?

By Brian Bennett in the Los Angeles Times

4. How an ex-inmate turned entrepreneur helps families of prisoners stay in touch.

By Teodora Zareva in Big Think

5. The brain’s secret link to our immune system could unlock autism, Alzheimers and more.

By Josh Barney at UVA Today

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

What If People With Autism Are Actually Hyperfunctional?

An unconventional theory for autism shows promise in a new study in rats

Most people who think about autism think of people who struggle or are inept in some ways, especially when it comes to social behaviors. But there’s growing evidence that the autistic brain may actually be more super-wired to detect and absorb cues from the outside world.

Now, a new study published in the journal Frontiers in Neuroscience suggests that the brains of people with autism are actually hyperfunctional rather than stunted or impaired, and that if treated early in a very predictable environment, symptoms could diminish.

In 2007, researchers Kamila Markram, Henry Markram, and Tania Rinaldi developed an alternative theory for what autism is, called the “Intense World Syndrome.” They believe that autism is not some form of mental deficit, but that the brain is actually supercharged and hyperfunctional. This makes stimuli overwhelming to people with autism, causing them to socially and emotionally withdraw as a mode of self-protection.

In the new study, researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), including Henry Markram and Kamila Markram, showed how autism might be treated following this theory.

The researchers took a group of rats and exposed them to a drug called valproate (VPA), which is a process commonly used to model autism in the rodents. The researchers then exposed the rats to three different environments. The first was a standard environment: a typical laboratory cage. The second was a unpredictable enriched environment, which had things like a running wheel, toys and places to hide. In this environment, the researchers would regularly clean the cages, change out the toys and reorganize the space. The third was a predictable enriched environment, which had stimuli like toys and a running wheel, but after every cleaning the cage remained the same and nothing was moved out of place.

The researchers found that rats exposed to VPA were more sensitive to their living environments compared to control rats. The VPA-exposed rats living in the predictable environment did not develop the same emotional behaviors like anxiety and fear that the VPA-exposed mice living in the unpredictable environment or the standard environment did. The researchers concluded that an unpredictable or impoverished environment exacerbates the autism-like symptoms in rats, but a very predictable environment can prevent these symptoms from developing.

Though the study is still preliminary and was done in rats and not humans, Kamila Markram says she thinks it does have implications for how children with autism might be treated in the future. “Many therapies do recognize that structure and predictability is important, but none of the approaches has put this at the center,” she says. “We say you have to put it at the center and you need to be addressing sensory overflow.”

MORE Temple Grandin: What’s Right With the Autistic Brain

In the ideal scenario, Markram says kids with autism could be diagnosed when they are very young and then raised in a very stable and predictable environment. “You would approach the child from the same direction, books are on the same shelf, toys are always in the same place,” she says.

Markam says that it’s also necessary to change the way people view the disorder as a whole. “It’s important to us that we move away from the autism as a deficit model. These children are hyperfunctional and they can’t bear their environment,” says Markan. “If you have that view, it changes the way you look at research. If you’re a parent, you’ll treat your child in a different way.”

TIME neuroscience

Game-Changing Discovery Links the Brain and the Immune System

New research could affect how we approach everything from Alzheimer's to autism

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine have made a dazzling discovery, published this week in Nature: the brain is directly connected to the immune system by previously unknown vessels.

“The first time these guys showed me the basic result, I just said one sentence: ‘They’ll have to change the textbooks,'” Kevin Lee, chairman of the UVA Department of Neuroscience, told Science Daily. He added that the discovery “will fundamentally change the way people look at the central nervous system’s relationship with the immune system.”

The discovery of these new vessels has enormous implications for every neurological disease with an immune component, from Alzheimer’s to multiple sclerosis. It could open up entirely new avenues for research and treatment alike, all stemming from the kind of discovery that has become extraordinarily rare in the 21st century.

“I really did not believe there are structures in the body that we are not aware of. I thought the body was mapped,” said director of UVA’s Center for Brain Immunology and Glia Jonathan Kipnis, who worked on the research. “I thought that these discoveries ended somewhere around the middle of the last century. But apparently they have not.”

Read more at Science Daily

TIME Drugs

Autistic Adults Could Take Ecstasy to Reduce Anxiety

The drug has also been tested as a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder

Researchers are interested in seeing whether taking ecstasy could reduce social anxiety in autistic adults.

A team laid out their proposed study in Science Direct, saying that MDMA, the medical name for Ecstasy, could increase social adaptability in autistic adults and that clinical use of the drug would be far safer than street use of Ecstasy or Molly.

The abstract talks about “MDMA’s capacity to help people talk openly and honestly about themselves and their relationships, without defensive conditioning intervening,” as well as its ability to decrease fear and anxiety in people on the drug. It is a popular party or rave drug because it is known to increase energy and euphoria in the user.

The study would examine whether MDMA could be used to reduce anxiety in autistic adults, not used as a treatment for autism itself. The drug is also studied as a treatment for other anxiety disorders, including post-traumatic stress disorder.

MDMA has been illegal in the United States since the 1980s.

TIME Research

Study Finds Possible Association Between Autism and Air Pollution

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Getty Images

Research suggests that early exposure to air pollution may have wide-ranging negative effects

A new study from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that exposure to fine particulate air pollution from pregnancy up and through the first two years of childhood may be linked with developing autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health conducted “a population-based, case-control study” of families living in southwestern Pennsylvania, which included children with and without ASD, reports Science Daily.

The research team was then able to estimate an individual’s exposure to specific categories of air pollution based on where their mothers lived before, during and after pregnancy.

“There is increasing and compelling evidence that points to associations between Pittsburgh’s poor air quality and health problems, especially those affecting our children and including issues such as autism spectrum disorder and asthma,” said Grant Oliphant, president of the Heinz Endowments, which funded the research project.

However, the members of the study stressed that their findings “reflect an association” but does not ultimately prove causality.

[Science Daily]

TIME Innovation

Why Doubling the Value of Food Stamps Helps Families Eat Better

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Want to help poor families get healthy food? Double the value of food stamps.

By Jay Cassano in Fast Co.Exist

2. How training service dogs is giving veterans a reason to live.

By Chris Peak in Time

3. Can saltwater quench our growing thirst?

By Brian Bienkowski in Ensia

4. High school sets up autistic kids to fail when they reach college. Here’s how to fix the problem.

By Noel Murray in Vox

5. The next big idea for ending poverty is thinking small.

By Jacob Lief in Huffington Post

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Research

Why Autism Is Different in the Brains of Girls Than in Boys

The reasons why girls are less often diagnosed may be both biological and social

Autism, already a mysterious disorder, is even more puzzling when it comes to gender differences. For every girl diagnosed with autism, four boys are diagnosed, a disparity researchers don’t yet fully understand.

In a new study published in the journal Molecular Autism, researchers from the UC Davis MIND Institute tried to figure out a reason why. They looked at 112 boys and 27 girls with autism between ages 3 and 5 years old, as well as a control sample of 53 boys and 29 girls without autism. Using a process called diffusion-tensor imaging, the researchers looked at the corpus callosum — the largest neural fiber bundle in the brain — in the young kids. Prior research has shown differences in that area of the brain among people with autism.

They found that the organization of these fibers was different in boys compared with girls, especially in the frontal lobes, which play a role in executive functions. “The sample size is still limited, but this work adds to growing body of work suggesting boys and girls with autism have different underlying neuroanatomical differences,” said study author Christine Wu Nordahl, an assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, in an email.

In other preliminary research presented at the International Meeting for Autism Research, or IMFAR, in Salt Lake City, the study authors showed that when girls and boys with autism are compared with typically developing boys and girls, the behavioral differences between girls with autism and the female controls are greater than the differences among the boys. Nordahl says this suggests that girls can be more severely affected than boys.

A study earlier this year by a separate group found notable differences in symptoms between autistic boys and girls, which could be one of the reasons autism in girls sometimes goes unnoticed or is diagnosed late. Girls generally display less obvious behavioral symptoms at a young age compared with boys, the researchers found.

One of the reasons females with autism are less understood than males is that most research studies do not have equal numbers of boys and girls, says Nordahl. “This is not surprising, given that there are so many more males with autism than females,” she says. “We need to do a better job of trying to recruit females with autism into our studies so that we can fully explore differences between males and females with autism.”

Nordahl says understanding gender differences in autism affects how kids are diagnosed, as well as how they are treated. Understanding what biological differences may be at work can ultimately lead to a better understanding of autism and the best interventions for treatment.

TIME Research

Why Girls With Autism Are Diagnosed Later Than Boys

They present symptoms differently than boys, which may result in missed diagnoses

A new study looking at gender differences among children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) show that girls have different, less obvious symptoms compared to boys, which could be why they are generally diagnosed later.

“There are clearly major gender differences in prevalence of autism, with more than four boys being diagnosed for every girl. However, we have little understanding of the roots of these differences,” says study author Dr. Paul Lipkin, director of the Interactive Autism Network at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. “Are they biological, social, diagnostic, or tied to other factors, such as screening systems?”

Lipkin and his colleagues looked at data on people with ASD and their family members using the Institute’s online registry of 50,000 people. Almost 10,000 of them had reported how old they were when they were first diagnosed, and about 5,000 had undergone a test to identify their severity of social impairment. The study author’s results were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies annual meeting in San Diego.

The researchers found that in general, girls were diagnosed with ASD later than boys. On average, girls were diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder—an autism spectrum disorder that impacts basic skill development—at age four, and boys were diagnosed with the same disorder at about 3.8 years. Girls were diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome around age 7.6 years, while boys were diagnosed around 7.1 years. Interestingly, the researchers noticed that the symptoms reported among the children differed by gender, too. Girls tended to have more issues with the ability to read social cues, and boys had more mannerism-related issues like repetitive behaviors including hand flapping. When boys were older, around age 10-15, they had more social issues like trouble communicating in social settings than girls did.

“These findings suggest that boys’ behavior are more apparent than the girls, with the potential for girls being more difficult to recognize,” says Lipkin. “Since the problems experienced by girls are in social cognition and require social opportunities, they are much more likely to be unnoticed until the elementary school years.”

The researchers say their findings suggest that the symptom differences may not only lead to delayed diagnosis in girls, but potentially missed diagnoses altogether. Understanding the various ways children with ASD present may lead to a better understanding of the disorders.

TIME medicine

Vaccines Don’t Cause Autism, Even in Kids at Higher Risk

"We are able to look at the vaccines and show there is no association with autism"

In the latest study on the vaccines, researchers find even more evidence that childhood immunizations aren’t linked to autism.

In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, a group led by Dr. Anjali Jain of the Lewin Group, a health care consulting organization, found that brothers and sisters of children with autism were not at any higher risk of developing the disorder if they were vaccinated compared with brothers and sisters of those without autism.

Numerous studies have found an increased risk of autism among those with older siblings with the condition, and some parents who believe that their older child’s autism is connected to vaccinations, specifically the MMR vaccine, have been reluctant to immunize their younger children. Indeed, Jain found that vaccination rates among siblings of autistic children were lower, at about 86% at 5 years, compared with 92% among those without autistic brothers or sisters.

But among the 95,000 children with older siblings included in the study, children who received the MMR and had autistic older siblings were no more likely to develop autism than children who were vaccinated and didn’t have any autistic older siblings. In fact, the relative risk of autism among those with older autistic brothers or sisters was lower if they were vaccinated compared with those who were not vaccinated.

“Our study confirmed that in kids with older siblings who we know are at increased risk of developing autism themselves, those kids are being vaccinated less,” says Jain. “But in the kids who did develop autism who were vaccinated, there was no increased risk from the vaccine compared to kids who did not get the vaccine.”

The results, she says, should put to rest any concerns that parents of autistic children might have that vaccinating their younger kids will somehow increase their risk of developing autism. The large size of the study, and the fact that vaccination and autism information wasn’t collected for purposes of a vaccines-and-autism study but as part of a larger health insurance database, also reinforce the strength of the findings. (The Lewin Group is an editorially independent part of Optum company, which collected the data.)

“We may not understand what is causing autism in these kids or families,” says Jain. “There could be a host of both genetic and environmental factors. But we are able to look at the vaccines themselves and show there is no association with autism.”

Read next: HPV Vaccine May Work for People Who Already Had the Virus

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